Walk through any grocery store, and you’ll see bright packages boasting health claims on any number of products ranging from chocolate-coated breakfast cereal (made with whole grain!) to chicken (all-natural, raised without antibiotics!). Wander to the dairy case and find more confusing packaging: what is the difference between free-range eggs and conventional eggs? Are free-range eggs organic? Are organic eggs better? It can sometimes seem as if we need a new kind of dictionary to do our grocery shopping. Welcome to the world of eco-labeling.
Eco-labeling is a new trend that has been built on the foundation of greener living. As more families seek products that are environmentally friendly and healthier, food companies are responding by creating labels with terminology that sound eco-friendly. But what should a savvy shopper look for to make sure her shopping cart is filled with healthy products? Read on for definitions for the most common eco-labels.
Savvy Shopper Should: Look for the seal.
For a product to be certified as organic, it must meet the following criteria:
· meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given antibiotics or growth hormones.
· food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.
· a government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.
There are three categories of organic labels:
· 100% Organic: made with 100% organic ingredients.
· Organic: made with at least 95% organic ingredients.
· Made with Organic Ingredients: at least 70% organic ingredients are used, and the remaining 30% must be free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
Only those products with at least 95% organic ingredients can carry the Certified Organic seal.
Savvy Shopper Should: Read the label for the company’s definition of “natural.”
“All-natural” means that the product does not contain any artificial ingredients, colors, chemical preservatives, and is minimally processed. But, the definition of “minimal” is up to the discretion of the producer, who should explain what they mean on the label. Read the label to decide if it meets your personal standards.
Eco-Label: Certified Humane
Savvy Shopper Should: Follow your heart.
“Certified Humane” means that the animals used to produce that food have ample space, shelter and gentle handling to limit stress, have access to ample fresh water and a healthy diet of quality feed, and are not given antibiotics or hormones. Animals may not be caged or tied, and must be free to live a natural, instinctive life. For example, chickens should have room and freedom to flap their wings and pigs should be give the space, time, and opportunity to move around and root.
Savvy Shopper Should: Proceed with caution.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), free-range or free-roaming means that “producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” However, the USDA only requires that animals receive five minutes of open-air access, and the living standards for these animals are largely left up to the individual farmer. If free-range status is important to you, consider buying dairy and meat products from a local farmer who maintains standards that meet your approval.
For a wider range of eco-labels and their definition, visit Consumer Reports’ Choices for a Greener Planet.
Striving for greater health through food is a rewarding and worthwhile effort, so don’t let confusing labeling make it a chore. Look for the organic seal, choose wisely, and remember: greater health is a journey of progress, not perfection!
How to Decode the Grocery Store Labels
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